Miracle at Midway – Gordon Prange

I finished this book on the Battle of Midway the other day. It’s a good treatment – a little less of the journalistic slant of the famed “Incredible Victory” by Walter Lord, and more of the Admiral’s eye view of matters on both sides.

The is also some interesting treatment of the Aleutians operation, which is often omitted due to its eventual irrelevance.

The theme is that the Japanese Admiral Yamamoto produced an overly complicated plan that wasted their strength and allowed the USN to compete on even terms.  When a little luck was added, the Japanese lost three of their four carriers in a few minutes, followed by the fourth the same day, and the remainder of the Japanese fleet was rendered impotent.

A recent book on the battle – Shattered Sword – looks at the details of Japanese procedures and carrier construction to show that the Japanese were much less fast and flexible in carrier operations than the US, even at this point. Also, their indifference to damage control led to uncontrollable fires that did most of the work in sinking the four carriers.  The US had learned from previous sinkings how to limit the spread of fires.

Prange notes an incident in this battle I hadn’t heard that bears on this. At the end of the battle, two Japanese cruisers collided, the Mikuma and the Mogami.  Although of the two, the Mogami was more damaged, it survived the followup air attacks and the Mikuma did not.  This is probably in large part due to the damage control officer of the Mogami throwing overboard all flammables including torpedoes and depth charges.  This gave them the edge they needed, while their sister ship died due to fires started by bombs.

Another theme Prange stresses is the tendency for promising Japanese officers to commit suicide or go down with their ship rather than survive and learn.  Japan had a tough road in the war regardless, but having their officers kill themselves only helped the US.

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